Life was very different 100 years ago, especially for women. Women didn’t have the right to vote, weren’t allowed to serve in the military or on a jury, couldn’t become a supreme court justice, and could be fired from their job for being pregnant. In fact, women weren’t even allowed to run in the Boston Marathon until 1972!
A lot has changed in the last 100 years, thank goodness, but it has taken a lot of time, energy, and hard work from proactive women (and men) to lift us up to where we are today. Bernice Morse is one of these women. Bernice (nicknamed Sunny), turned 100 this year and has been a member of the League of Women Voters of the Ann Arbor Area for over 70 years.
“I remember when it was popular opinion that women weren’t expected to work outside the house, continue their education, or participate in political discussions,” Bernice said.
Now, there are women who own businesses, work in science and technology, and even run for office. Bernice, as an active member of the League of Women Voters (LWV), first joined the league in her mid-20s.
“I was interested in the community and getting people to vote,” Bernice said. “Not just women—everyone.”
One of her neighbors was a member of the League and invited Bernice to a meeting, but with two young kids, Bernice had her hands full. Her neighbor persisted, and eventually, Bernice decided to go to one meeting— a state convention. She went with a group of women to the event and observed how they represented themselves.
“I was so impressed with this group of intelligent, informed women,” Bernice said. “I decided I wanted to be just like them.”
The LWV is a non-partisan political organization that encourages informed and active participation in government, understanding of major public policy issues, and influences public policy through education and advocacy. The LWV is open to all, has no alignment with political parties, and encourages women to take a stand for what they believe.
“The League has been my education on politics and just how effective an organization can be,” Bernice said. “It has opened my eyes to issues and given me the greatest mentors.”
Once Bernice became a member, her interest in politics began to expand beyond LWV meetings. Twice a month, an LWV member, Helen, would visit
Bernice at home to talk at length about politics, policies, and relevant issues. Bernice had the full support of the league, as well as her husband’s, until he passed away in 2012.
“The LWV represents the most thoughtful and forward-looking women,” Bernice said. “When we study a problem, we approach it with thoughtful consideration and thorough investigation before taking a position on it.”
For Bernice, the LWV has been an education, an inspiration, and a group of friends. Even at 100, Bernice has watched every presidential debate and attended last month’s LWV event, “Know Your Candidates Forum,” at Chelsea Retirement Community.
“It’s such a miracle that a woman has made it this far in the presidential campaign,” Bernice said. “Women have learned to stand up for themselves and be vocal. They’ve found their voice and used it!”
Bernice has seen women’s roles in the workplace go from almost nonexistent to prevalent in all sectors, including government, and she hopes it will only get better.
“In the future, I hope women become more educated in the general sense, as well as in politics, and pursue their own interests—wherever that leads them,” Bernice said. “I hope they are recognized for their intelligence and use it to influence and educate others.”
With all of the controversy surrounding this year’s presidential election, it is refreshing to have the perspective of a woman who has a century of life experience and has lived through 17 presidents.
“Make sure you thoroughly know the issues, know who is running for office, and know what they stand for. Do they align with your beliefs? Your desires for government? Make sure you are informed, and make sure you vote!” Bernice said.